COLUMN: Renaissance? I think not: Students getting raw deal

By Steve Contorno

Memorial stadium smells like the troughs at Wrigley Field. There is little about the stadium that gives a game-like atmosphere for the fans. Everything from the towering, spiral ramps to the fake grassy-turf to the bland cement entrance makes Memorial Stadium feel more like some kind of holding cell for football than a Big Ten sports venue.

So when I first heard about the renovations to Memorial Stadium, I thought to myself, “It’s about time.” I dreamt up a stadium that could rival the noise that Camp Randall produces or Michigan’s “Big House” atmosphere. I thought we could pack in the fans like Ohio State and create a sea of orange and blue that would intimidate opponents who dare to enter our house.

If you build it, they will come.

But when the University decided to move two student sections from their picturesque seats on the first level near midfield all the way to the North end zone, I couldn’t help but feel completely screwed over. How can this be acceptable?

Essentially, the University turned the student’s view of the game from a high-def TV to a two-dimensional drawing. We will have no perception of distance, so when the ball is on the south side of the field, we won’t be able to tell if Rashard Mendenhall’s run was enough for the first down, or if Juice’s pass to Kyle Hudson was for forty yards or four. How often are football games shown on TV from the back? Sure, the PA announcer will inform the students right after the play happened, but we’re there to watch the game, not be told what’s happening.

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    The entire game will be one big delayed reaction from the fans that matter most: the students. What have we done to deserve this?

    Since 1910 when Block-I was created, they have had control of the seats near midfield. For 96 years, including all 82 years Memorial Stadium has existed, they have filled those seats, through thick and thin. As the stadium crowds dwindle while the losses add up (as they have the past few years) and the temperature falls, the Block-I and student section have remained strong, cheering for their Illini even when there was no hope.

    In the past few years, with the football team losing more and more frequently, Block-I has even had to reject students from participating because they didn’t have enough room.

    Student involvement in Block-I has not fallen – despite the team’s pathetic records. And as a reward for this, they’re giving us seats in the horseshoe of the stadium that are so unappealing that the bleachers there are empty nearly every game.

    What’s worse is that Block-I is against the move. In an e-mail to Block-I members, president Kolbe Michael Kasper told the students “Illini Pride officers and Block-I officers are just as upset about losing our seats as everyone else … neither Illini Pride nor Block I officers were included in the decision of the student and block sections being moved.”

    So not only did the University move the students section, but they did it without the approval of an organization that has been a cornerstone of student cheering for nearly 90 years.

    Sure, some positives may come of this. Block-I can accept more members because the section will be bigger. And we can have more band interaction (whatever that means) because they will be seated along with us. The DIA also said that moving us will allow our noise to be better heard throughout the stadium.

    But why not just give us more seats near the 40-yard line where our seats currently exist? And who cares about band interaction? Yea, I like the drum line and the halftime shows, but what kind of interaction can you have with the band?

    I think Ohio proved that our band isn’t that loud anyway when they came into our stadium and played from a small corner and were louder than anything we had heard all year. And it’s more fun heckling the visitor’s sideline and chanting “ILL-INI” with the west side than getting to be heard by a few more people.

    The truth is, I would trade in any and all positive that come with this “Renaissance” for our old seats any day. Few stadiums in college sports give their students such a great view of the game.

    Unless the student masses rebel, the sad thing is the University will get away with this. In four years, anyone who remembers our perfect seats will most likely have graduated and left, and incoming classes will accept the inferior seats without a second thought.

    In ten years, no one will even remember that we once were able to watch the game instead of just being a bunch of cheerleaders stuck in the end zone.

    Steve Contorno is a sophomore in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].